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Publish and be Damned

Cancel Culture or Moral Panic?

The offline and online worlds have lots in common. Telling a joke in a bar surrounded by friends, can be done perfectly from a distance too. You can post your joke on the social media platform of your choice, where your friends follow you and can laugh along, although not physically present. Not that big of a deal, right?

But social media, like Twitter, can cause an inside joke specifically meant for your friends to reach a broader audience. According to an article by Debbie Chachra in the Atlantic, much of the power of specifically Twitter comes from retweets, which can carry the words of a user to an audience far beyond their own followers. But retweeting also allows for what social-media researchers such as danah boyd and Alice Marwick refer to as “context collapse”: removing tweets from not only their temporal and geographic context, but also their original social and cultural milieu, which is very different from most public spaces.

Context collapse can fuel the so-called cancel culture: a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – especially online, on social media. A joke from sixteen years ago may be the reason for a reckoning in the here and now. According to Jan Postma, writing for De Groene Amsterdammer, social media can function as funnels and megaphones in one, poisonous, and a small crowd can crush an individual. Moreover, Postma argues the term cancel culture doesn’t mean anything substantial. Instead, he sees cancel culture as an example of moral panic: “An image of fear that people who want to sell newspapers make grateful use of. They may believe in it themselves, but that’s because they hang out on Twitter all day, interpreting every reply as an attempt to silence them.”

Is this cancel culture indeed just an example of moral panic? Are our media radicalizing us? In the past half decade this question has increasingly come to preoccupy both popular and academic debate. To discuss these pressing questions, IMPAKT’s web project Radicalization by Design convenes a cross-disciplinary and public facing dialogue at the intersection of new media and extremism studies to discuss these questions and to cast light on these darker regions of the web. 


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